It happens more often than we’d like, usually when we’re talking about lacerations, that an owner describes one thing, and you find something entirely different when you reach the farm. This difference may mean that we would have prepared differently or brought different equipment with us. The confusion is usually due to terminology. There are many different names for all the parts of a horse, from the fancy Latin phrase to the layman’s term. Using the same vocabulary can help us (the vet) communicate with you (the owner) to take better care of them (our horses). Having a common language will lead to more efficient and effective communication and better care for your horse!
TOP TO BOTTOM
Dorsal: Near the topline or back. Think dorsal fin on a shark.
If you run your hand down the middle of your horse’s back, you are touching the dorsal midline. The withers are dorsal to the shoulder.
Ventral: The bottom or towards the belly. A horse that has colic surgery will have an incision made on the ventral midline. The udder is on the ventral abdomen.
FRONT TO BACK
Cranial: Towards the head (or the cranium). The point of the hip is cranial to the tail.
Caudal: Towards the tail. You place the saddle caudal to the horse’s neck.
Now when we’re talking about the head you’re already as cranial as you can be so you really can’t say something is more cranial than something else on the cranium.
Rostral: Towards the tip of the nose. The nostrils are more rostral than the eyes.
Just because we like to make it confusing, terms change when we talk about things below the knees and the hocks.
We still use dorsal to indicate the front of the limbs. But for the back of the legs we use palmar and plantar (depending on if it’s a front of back leg):
Palmar: front legs. Like our hands have palms. The flexor tendons run down the palmar surface of the front leg.
Plantar: back legs. Like we get plantar fasciitis in our hind limbs (our feet). The ergot is on the plantar surface of the hind fetlocks.
SIDE TO SIDE
Lateral: Towards the side, away from midline, the outside. The ear is lateral to the forelock.
Medial: Towards midline, the inside. The chestnut is on the medial side of the leg.
NEAR AND FAR
Proximal: Closer to the origin (the body). The knee is proximal to the foot.
Distal: Away from the origin (body). Think distal=distant. The fetlock is distal to the knee.
With horses having so many appendages, we sometimes have to describe a location in relation to the first location and it can either be on the same side or the opposite side. These are much less commonly used terms;
Contralateral: The opposite side of the horse. A horse with a broken leg it at risk of developing contralateral limb laminitis after putting too much weight on the good leg.
Ipsilateral: The same side of the horse. When the horse fell on its side, it injured the right eye and the ipsilateral shoulder (the right shoulder).